Covid, Race, and the Revolution

The pandemic’s devastating toll on vulnerable children, solidarity and allyship in the struggle against racism, and a call for “radical relief,” in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No. 16, July 29, 2020

Prioritize People over Profits, and Ban Evictions

By Jamila Henderson

As eviction moratoriums rapidly expire — including the federal moratorium that ended last week — renters, especially those who are Black and Brown and women, will be forced to choose between paying rent and buying food. 

In the Bay Area’s Contra Costa County, an estimated 12,000 renter households facing homelessness were spared, due in part to the advocacy of the Raise the Roof coalition. It used data to convince the county Board of Supervisors of the magnitude of potential evictions without a moratorium. The board unanimously approved an extension to September 30, giving vulnerable residents a temporary reprieve from evictions. But millions of renters have no such lifeline in sight. We must prepare for a wave of evictions and homelessness that could ensue without strong renter protections.

Massachusetts and the Bay Area’s Alameda County can serve as models for action and advocacy. In Massachusetts, over 1,000 residents and over 200 organizations took collective action to win one of the strongest eviction and foreclosure moratoriums in the nation. The policy prevents landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent, stops court eviction filings, blocks sheriffs’ enforcement of eviction and late fees, and includes a moratorium on evictions for small businesses. In California’s Alameda County, tenants are protected from most evictions through September, with a 12-month grace period to pay back rent without threat of eviction. When the grace period is up, any rent owed becomes consumer debt.

Renters who have been laid off, had their hours or pay cut, or who have fallen ill or had to care for sick loved ones are at particularly high risk of eviction. Some will be spared temporarily by unemployment insurance benefits while they last, or by savings or other sources. Others are ineligible for benefits because they are undocumented, self-employed, or working in the informal economy. These renters and others face an imminent threat of eviction and homelessness. Maria, an undocumented worker living in Houston, became homeless after her hours were cut and she was unable to pay rent. Despite the state’s eviction moratorium, as an undocumented immigrant she feared accumulating debt and appearing in court, a situation that may be quite common.

The entire nation will suffer if struggling renter households are left to fend for themselves when temporary eviction moratoriums end. Renter households account for 37 percent of all households nationwide and contribute an estimated $1.5 trillion each year to the national economy. Even before the pandemic, half of renter households were cost burdened — paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. This was especially true for low-income renters and renters of color, and the problem has surely grown as unemployment has reached Depression-era levels. 

If all renters were charged only what they could afford for housing, together, renter households would have an extra $124 billion to spend in the economy each year. This translates to $6,200 per household to support local businesses, pay for food, education, and health care, or invest in critical savings. We are all in this together: the economic security of rent-burdened households shapes the prosperity of our communities and of the nation and is especially urgent now, as America grapples with structural racism and with a pandemic that’s disproportionately killing Black and Brown people. 

Ultimately, we need policies that value people over property. We value people by guaranteeing affordable, safe, and high-quality housing for all regardless of income. We do this by investing in public housing, community land trusts, and housing cooperatives. Tenants in Minneapolis who recently won community control of five apartment buildings are leading the charge. A focus on people must also acknowledge and remedy racist housing policies of the past rooted in the theft of Native land and the exclusion of Black communities, through reparative approaches.

Right now, we need strong protections that endure through the Covid-19 recovery. This includes a ban on evictions, canceled rent and mortgages tied to relief for affordable housing providers and small landlords, and housing first for people without access to safe and healthy shelter. Federal proposals to provide financial assistance for rent would bring immediate benefits to renters. The aid should target the most vulnerable and have adequate funds to meet the tremendous need. Furthermore, we must continue to advocate for strong renter protections that local leaders have been pushing for years, including limiting the grounds on which landlords can evict tenants through “just cause” legislation, enacting rent control, and ensuring the right to counsel for low-income renters.

Local leaders closest to these issues have the solutions, but we need the political will to implement them. Learn more about bold policy solutions to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic and beyond from our latest briefs, Strategies to Advance Racial Equity in Housing Response and Recovery: A Guide for Cities during the Covid-19 Pandemic and Inclusive Processes to Advance Racial Equity in Housing Recovery: A Guide for Cities during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Jamila Henderson is a Senior Associate at PolicyLink.

News, Analysis, and Commentary, Curated from Around the Web

Saving Generation Covid: While the disease disproportionately sickens and kills older people, the devastating toll on youth — especially low-income children of color — is becoming clear. The pandemic has killed more than 10,000 children a month globally, not by infecting them but by unleashing severe hunger and malnutrition. An international food policy consortium, writing in the medical journal The Lancet, says lockdowns and other virus-control measures have disrupted food supplies and trade routes, and called for emergency action by world leaders, according to the Washington Post

The unprecedented education crisis caused by the coronavirus will have severe, long-lasting developmental and economic consequences for the most vulnerable young people, according to Project Syndicate. Nearly 1.6 billion children across the world have been affected by school shutdowns.

Just weeks away from opening most public schools online, California needs 700,000 more laptops and 300,000 Wi-Fi hotspots so all students can learn, the Fresno Bee reports. One of every five K-12 students in the state had no access to the technology needed to participate remotely when school buildings closed in March. Meanwhile, the 1.7-million member American Federation of Teachers announced it will support “safety strikes” if health precautions are not met as schools reopen, according to NPR.  The Daily, a New York Times podcast, reports on the frantic, often contested efforts to reopen schools in major cities nationwide.

As Congress negotiates the next Covid-19 relief package, there is a vast gulf between the narrow Senate Republican bill, HEALS, put forward this week, and the more expansive HEROES Act passed by House Democrats more than two months ago. The debate is heating up as millions of Americans lose their supplemental unemployment insurance. Vox compares the two packages. And see Federal Policy Priorities for an Equitable COVID-19 Relief and Recovery, by PolicyLink. 

The anti-eviction provisions of an earlier relief package, the CARES Act, were largely successful until they expired, ProPublica reports. Before the law, more than 7,700 households were evicted monthly from federally backed apartment buildings in Atlanta and Houston; the number dropped to less than 200 in the months the protections were in effect.

Another relief measure, the Paycheck Protection Program, was intended to keep employees on the payroll. But a Washington Post examination of three large corporations that received millions of dollars — a luxury hotel, a resort chain, and a restaurant group — shows that some companies have yet to rehire most of their workers.

The entire childcare industry has received less federal bailout funding than Delta Airlines, Elliot Haspel tells Bloomberg CityLab. Providers and advocates say the childcare system as we know it — underinvested and frayed in the best of times — will collapse without government assistance. 

Who will go to the head of the line when a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available? Writing in Stat, Sandeep Jauhar says the outsized impact on low-income Black and Latinx people suggests  they need the vaccine as much as, or more than, the wealthy and well connected. “To ensure they get their fair share, they will need representation to advocate for their interests when allocation decisions are made.” The issue has gained urgency as two drug makers announced this week they are entering the final stage of vaccine clinical trials — and as every day brings new stories of racial inequities in Covid testing and treatment. 

For example, richer, mostly White communities in the San Francisco Bay Area got coronavirus testing much faster last spring than harder-hit low-income and working-class Black and Latinx communities, and the disparities persist, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In Starr County Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley — where more than 95 percent of the population is Latinx — the county hospital is so overwhelmed by the coronavirus that doctors and local officials are developing protocols for choosing patients to send home to die, CNN reports

After Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for requiring masks to control the spread of Covid-19, Black mayors of cities large and small issued a demand to governors: do not block mayors from implementing public health strategies that keep their constituents safe.

Seven locked-up immigrants who sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement for release during the pandemic were loaded into a van, then a plane, then a bus, and transferred from a Pennsylvania jail with no Covid cases, to one in Alabama with an outbreak, Mother Jones reports. The American Civil Liberties Union says ICE has long used transfers to the Deep South as a form of retaliation and a way to get people under the jurisdiction of conservative judges, but the practice has reached new heights of cruelty when it threatens to expose people to the virus and spread it between facilities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics condemned the detention of immigrant children as young as one-year-old. In a statement, association President Sally Goza blasted the “harrowing” and “traumatizing” practice of holding very young children for days and weeks in hotel rooms in Texas and Arizona, supervised by federal immigration agents with no childcare experience. “Hundreds of children have apparently been subjected to this treatment, despite a federal law that protects them, because the administration is relying on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order that uses the pandemic as justification to turn unaccompanied children away at the border.”

Outraged by the deployment of camouflaged, unidentified federal agents in Portland, Oregon, who have beaten, doused, and arrested Black Lives Matter protesters, demonstrators have gone to the streets in Oakland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and other cities, the New York Times writes. The violent crackdown has also galvanized Portland protesters, and brought a “Wall of Veterans,” along with parents and nurses, to demonstrate in solidarity.

The LatinoUSA podcast explores the meaning of allyship at this moment.

Disability rights activists are taking on the dual crises of racist police brutality and Covid-19. Democracy Now looks at the underreported but harsh impact of police violence on people with disabilities, especially Black people. One study suggests that as many as half of people killed by law enforcement in this country have a disability.

The anti-racist fervor has had one unexpected effect: it has spurred some of the nation’s top high school athletes to attend historically Black colleges and universities. The New York Times tells the story of Makur Maker, a star basketball recruit who chose Howard University over sports powerhouses UCLA and Kentucky, becoming the highest ranked player in more than a decade to select an HBCU.

As the nation struggles to reckon with racism, how will corporate America and civil society respond? The New York Times investigates the political spending of dozens of Fortune 500 companies and exposes the hypocrisy of corporate leaders who speak up on racial equity, gender equality, sustainability, and other issues, but quietly fund political efforts that run counter to and even undermine their public positions.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, calls on every sector to abandon preconceived ideas and take bold steps toward justice and fairness. “Imagine what could happen if well-endowed universities took immediate steps to preserve their underfunded colleagues. For instance, what if Harvard issued debt, using bonds to generate revenue to build Howard’s endowment?,” he writes in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This vision of radical relief can be applied broadly: rich hospitals could send doctors and equipment to cash-strapped clinics in rural areas; wealthy school districts could redistribute classroom resources to poorly funded neighboring schools; global corporations could inject capital directly into locally owned shops and restaurants, particularly in communities of color.

The new Racial Equity Index, from PolicyLink, makes it easy to compare racial equity performance across US cities, regions, and states, offering a valuable tool to advance the radical strategies so many people are demanding.

Attorney Bryan Stevenson offers his prescription for healing the deep wounds of racism, in an interview with Vox. “For me, it begins with truth-telling, because when you start telling the truth, you recognize things. For me, the question is: What is the truth of our institution as it relates to the history of racial inequality? It’s very, very concrete. How do we frame an investigation into the truth of our history? What is the truth of our history? What is our institutions’ role? What is our community’s role in allowing this landscape to be created that is so shattered by racial injustice and white supremacy?”

PolicyLink draws from articles, videos, interviews, and other sources across platforms, as well as from our network of equity leaders and activists, to bring you the latest information about COVID-19 and race. We offer this resource to:

  • Provide easy access to information on the dual health and economic crises facing people of color;
  • Put and keep racial equity at the center of our collective understanding of the pandemic and the policies needed for relief and recovery; and
  • Lift up useful data and insights that can fuel equity advocacy and campaigns. 

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We hope you find the COVID-19 and Race Series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve. As a non-profit organization, PolicyLink is honored to provide resources to support the needs of our nation's 100 million economically insecure individuals. Generous partners like you make our work possible. 

Michael McAfee and Angela Glover Blackwell are grateful for the contributions of Fran Smith, Milly Hawk Daniel, Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Jennifer Pinto, Heather Tamir, Ana Louie, Janet Dickerson, and Mark Jones to produce the COVID-19 & Race commentary.